Medford, Ore. — The Jackson County Jail has been at capacity for the last 32 years. It’s a problem that the Sheriff’s Office, as well as other local law enforcement agencies acknowledge.
“It’s always at or near capacity,” Sheriff Nathan Sickler said.
The facility has been dealing with the problem since 1985, to be exact. But since taking on the role of Sheriff in January, Sicker has put a specific focus on the Jackson County Jail.
“The amount of effort it takes to do minor tasks in the jail because of it’s design, we could really improve our efficiency as an agency by moving to a more modern design,” Sickler said.
That would mean a completely new jail. The existing structure was originally built to be expanded, by building up. But with changes in earthquake and safety codes, Sheriff Sickler says that would be a spendy project.
“Those retrofits are expensive, and they’re still not going to be as good as modern technology infused into a modern jail would be, as far as our ability to efficiently staff the jail,” Sickler noted.
But it’s more than just a workplace improvement or space issue — it’s also the law.
“We have to worry about making sure that it’s not overcrowded, and that the conditions are safe for both the inmates and the deputies,” Sickler said.
With that in mind, Sheriff Sickler says the best course of action is to start from the ground up. It’s an idea that’s been looked into before, with a study that considered population and the crime rate here in Jackson County.
“It was 2004 or 2005, that that came out, and it did say that we needed about 600 beds for our population then,” Sickler said.
But there’s only 230 available now, with 62 being added with the reopening of the basement this summer. Sheriff Sickler says a new jail isn’t just desired, it’s required. And it’s something that benefits all parties.
“We’d love to get buy-in from all the Police Chiefs and the County Commissioners and the County Administrator, and I think they’re all very receptive to talking about these ideas,” Sickler said.
Jackson County Commissioner Bob Strosser has a 24-year law enforcement background. He says Sheriff Sickler’s focus on the issue is right where it should be.
“The facility itself, I think, is functionally obsolete,” Strosser said. “Is there a need for a facility that is more modern, in my view, absolutely.”
While Strosser says the idea hasn’t been officially addressed by the commissioners and the county, it’s something that will surely come up in the near future.
“We would be doing quite a bit of outreach to our constituency and educating them as to what problems we’re facing, and then ultimately, they help decide what we’re able to do,” Strosser said.
Getting a new facility will require buy-in from local police chiefs. For Medford Police Chief Randy Sparacino, it’s a no-brainer.
“Having been there for over 30 something years, it’s time for us to get a new jail,” Sparacino said.
But funding the millions of dollars it will take to build a new jail is just one of many factors that will be considered in this upcoming process, leaving more questions than answers — at least, for the time being.
“It’s something that’s going to take a long time to you know, plan, figure out how you’re going to fund, and the construction is going to be considerable as well,” Sickler said.